British author Renner kicks off a new series with smart writing that combines mystery, historical fantasy and a touch of steampunk.
Her mother disappeared five years ago, and her loony father consumes his days with building playing-card towers. As a consequence, 11-year-old Princess Charlotte Augusta Joanna Hortense—aka Charlie—of Quale, an imaginary country in a Victorian-like time, has not been treated as royalty. She has endured near starvation and strict discipline at the hands of the castle caretaker. When she overhears whispers of revolution and finds a lost letter written by her mother, plucky Charlie begins to question her surroundings and dares to hope for her mother’s return. This well-crafted tale focuses on storytelling over a formulaic plot as Charlie wonders whom to trust with her mother’s letter: Mr. Moleglass, the basement-dwelling butler; Alistair Windlass, the young, charismatic prime minister; Tobias, the 12-year-old gardener’s boy with a skill for picking locks; or the revolutionaries she’s joined forces with. Possible double agents and nonstop twists and turns keep readers guessing as Charlie seems to raise more questions than answers concerning her mother’s disappearance and also her likely ties to a secret weapon against a warring, neighboring nation. Atmospheric trains, pneumatic tubes and other burgeoning technology of the time add a fantastical element to the old-fashioned setting.
Readers will also delight in Charlie’s transformation from hotheaded victim to shrewd leader—and friend. (Fantasy. 9-12)